PHILADELPHIA – Gov. Phil Bryant told Neshoba County fairgoers Thursday of plans to improve early childhood education across the state by training day care workers.

The second-term Republican governor provided few details of the plan Thursday, other than to say he hopes to use federal funds and state funds for the effort. The state’s 15 community colleges will provide the training at no charge to the workers.

“I have two and one-half years left” as governor, Bryant said. ”I am going to finish strong.”

The tin-roofed, wood chipped-floored Founders Square pavilion with its wood benches provided at least a little relief from the hot and humid day and attracted a large crowd for a non-election year.

The annual political speaking normally attracts all of the statewide elected officials and journalists from throughout Mississippi. Besides Bryant, House Speaker Philip Gunn, Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith, Treasurer Lynn Fitch and Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney spoke Thursday. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and Attorney General Jim Hood were among the speakers Wednesday – the first of the two days of political speakings.

Bryant, who has been speaking each year at the Neshoba County Fair since 1996, spent much of Thursday highlighting what he viewed as the state’s progress during his gubernatorial tenure. He cited improved reading scores, an improving high school graduation rate and low unemployment.

He and other members of the state’s Republican leadership did not talk during the fair about the fact that the state is still struggling to regain the number of jobs lost during the 2008-09 recession.

At one time in his early political career, Bryant, a social conservative, opposed spending public funds on early childhood education. But at the fair Thursday, the governor cited research stressing the importance of early childhood education. He said it is key to moving the state forward.

State funds are currently spent on a pilot program where local school districts and other groups collaborate on early childhood development efforts. The governor said he wants to expand that program.

Bryant also said during his final years in office he will focus “on more charter schools and more school choice.” He said, “School choice in Mississippi is not going anywhere. It’s only going to grow.”

The Republican governor highlighted that Mississippi was one of five states to win “gold shovel” awards from Area Development Magazine for its economic development efforts. In past years during Bryant’s tenure, the state had garnered silver shovels.

Bryant proudly brought the shovel on stage as he walked around with a microphone in hand, eschewing the lectern normally used by the speakers.

He said the award “shines the spotlight on Mississippi’s supportive business climate and skilled workforce, while demonstrating to the world we are committed to the economic development of communities throughout the state.”

He praised Mississippi Development Authority Executive Director Glenn McCullough, the former mayor of Tupelo, for leading the state’s economic development efforts.

Referencing national politics, Bryant, a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, reminisced on the visit to the fair during the 2016 presidential election by Donald Trump Jr.

“I want to thank Moscow for helping to arrange that,” he quipped.

Gunn spoke about his belief in smaller government and personal responsibility.

“Public funds should not be used to support people who are capable, but simply unwilling to work,” said Gunn, in his second term as House Speaker.

The other speakers Thursday for the most part gave low-key remarks providing updates on what they viewed as the accomplishments of their respective agency in recent years.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com Twitter: @bobbyharrison9

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